Conversation With General Le Minh Dao
On January 14, 2002 I had the pleasure of a phone conversation with Major General Le Minh Dao, 18th Infantry Division Commander, ARVN. Following is the Transcript of the Conversation with General Le Minh Dao.

NVT: I imagine you remember quite a few things about my brother, General Hieu.

LMD: Yes, I remember General Hieu quite well, from when he held the position of 3rd Corps Deputy Commander in charge of Operations. Every time he came to Xuan Loc, I was the one who drove him around in a jeep to inspect our units. We got along well with each other. He made it clear that he approved of the troop disposition and plans within the 18th Division. He rarely asked questions, he simply gave everything a quick but thorough look, and only offered an opinion when asked.

I still recall the circumstances of the battle of An Dien after the 3rd Corps Assault Task Force of Brigadier General Tran Quang Khoi failed to break the enemy defense line by attacking Rach Bap and Hill 82 from the south General Thuan gave me the responsibility of using elements of the 18th Division to assault An Dien from two sides. One group crossed the Thi Tinh river to the south of Ben Cat and moved as quickly as possible up north toward An Dien, and another group attacked An Dien over the bridge, and established General Hieu long- term at the 18th Division's Command Post. The two of us, General Hieu and I, slept in the same room, side by side on two beds. I noticed Hieu was an avid reader, always carrying around two or three books in English. He was very understanding, and shared our hard rations. One morning I saw him stopping a sergeant of the 18th Division (who volunteered to polish his boots) from taking them away. General Hieu took the brush to do it himself. This action showed how considerate he was, in not wanting to take advantage of others.

NVT: I'd like to find out if my brother discussed with you his plans for defending Saigon, after the loss of the 1st and the 2nd Corps.

LMD: He didn't talk to me about his plans. As a matter of fact, the 3rd Corps was responsible for three divisions, the 25th in Tay Ninh, the 5th in Lai Khe and the 18th in Xuan Loc. The Corps Commander simply devolved that responsibility onto the divisions, leaving each one to defend its own operational area. If everything ran smoothly, then that was fine, but if something went wrong, the divisional commander was reamed out. Each divisional commander ended up with full authority for the disposition of his troops. The Corps played at most a supporting role, and certainly didn't take any initiative. Therefore, the victory of the battle at Xuan Loc was due entirely to the ingenuity and courage of my 18th Division. I should mention, though, that the 3rd Corps did attach one Airborne Brigade to me for the duration of the Xuan Loc battle.

NVT: Then wasn't the 3rd Corps Assault Task Force of General Khoi moved into a blocking position at the Dau Giay intersection because you had requested reinforcement?

LMD: No, it was entirely the 3rd Corps's idea to place General Khoi's force at that position, with the primary goal of protecting Bien Hoa in case the 18th Division was unable to hold the line at Xuan Loc.

NVT: Who then ordered the dropping of the two Daisy Cutter bombs?

LMD: I am not quite sure. One person who would know is Brigadier General Tho, from the Joint General Staff. All I know is that I reported to the Corps that the enemy was amassing a large number of troops at a specific position, and I requested a tactical air strike. General Toan apparently conferred with the Joint General Staff, then somebody high up ordered the drop of those two bombs. I myself was not aware at that stage that we had access to such a destructive bomb!

NVT: I'd also like to go further into the relationship, at that time, between a corps and a division. You said that the corps in general did not take any initiative. I think that was either because Thieu insisted on having the final say on every military matter, creating a bottleneck in communications, and bypassing the Joint General Staff and the Corps Commander to deal directly with the Division Commanders. This would certainly result in the Corps Commander appearing to lack initiative.

LMD: In fact the army was spread out very thin; the Corps Commanders did not deploy reserve units usefully, and didn't allow them to respond or adapt to changes on the battlefront ...

NVT: No wonder units at every level had to fend for themselves. When the 1st Corps retreated, it received no reinforcements. When the 2nd Corps also had to retreat, it was not backed up in any way. When Phuoc Long was attacked, it was left to fight alone.

LMD: That's right, the tactics of the army were only to try and plug the leaks in our defense line, and there was no initiative, no direction.

NVT: The lack of initiative at the corps level could also be due to incompetent individual Corps Commanders. That could be another cause of their lack of direction toward the division levels. And in my brother's case, because he was only a deputy commander and thus not trusted by Thieu, although he had already thought up badly-needed plans and initiatives, he was not consulted or even allowed to contribute, so he was resigned to keeping those ideas to himself. If General Tri, who knew how to use my brother's skills, had still been alive at that point, perhaps those initiatives could have been implemented.

LMD: I agree with what you said about the reluctance of corps commanders to delegate authority to their deputies, for fear their orders would not be properly carried out. In my own case, I was frustrated by the rapid turnover of corps commanders, which kept fragmenting the chain of command. I think it was the fact that General Tri was replaced by General Minh that caused Hieu to loose the battle of Snoul. I knew he was more than competent to hold a division together. He was superb in strategy and staff work. However, his mild appearance might have caused soldiers not to see him as a fighting leader, and that would make him less effective, in the end, as a tactician.

NVT: Initially, I was also inclined to underestimate him, but in fact Hieu showed himself to be a formidable tactical commander. In reference to Snoul, I had the opportunity to research it thoroughly, and have written an article about this battle on General Hieu's Page. You're welcome to look at those details. In a nutshell, Snoul was conceived as a plan to use the 8th Regiment to decoy the NVA 5th Division, and to bring up all three divisions of the 3rd Corps as reserve units for the battle, with 8 or 9 Task Forces already stationed over the border in Kampuchea.

LMD: Yes, I know what you mean, because I remember Hieu had deployed troops around Dambe and Kompong Trach, to cut off the enemy ...

NVT: This has been quite a long conversation, so I'd like to stop now. I Thank you for providing me with additional details about my brother, and with facts to flesh out my theories.

LMD: Hieu was indeed a capable and incorruptible General of the ARVN. His children, brothers and sisters should be proud to have such an exceptional individual in their family.

NVT: Thank you.

Nguyen Van Tin
17 January 2002.

Translation revised by Clytie Siddall (10/1/2009)